The human suffering caused by opioid abuse is clear. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 97.5 million Americans used, or misused, prescription pain pills in 2015. Drug-overdose deaths have tripled since 2000, and opioid abuse now kills more than a hundred Americans a day. But often omitted from the conversation about the epidemic is its harmful effects on the American economy, and on a scale not seen in any previous drug crisis, reports the New Yorker. New research links a decline in the labor force to the use of prescription pain medication by working-age men. Studies suggest the total cost to the economy of the opioid crisis is as high as $78.5 billion annually.
Anupam Jena, a health economist and physician at Harvard Medical School, says that such figures don’t include the most dramatic cost: the economic value of the loss of life. Taking the conservative estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 opioid-related deaths a year and multiplying those numbers by $5 million—a figure commonly used by insurance companies to value a human life—Jena estimated that loss of life alone costs the economy as much $150 billion a year. If President Trump were running the U.S. government like a business, as he often claims to be doing, then he would have made tackling an inefficiency of such scale a priority, the magazine said.